Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mirror Writing Mystery and Handwriting Deciphering Contest

Some kinds of mysteries arrive at Red Poulaine on a regular basis. The model whose name we can't discover; the performer whose name we know, but whose biography remains frustratingly obscure; the photographer whose works we love, but whose true identity remains hidden behind an impenetrable veil of secrecy.

All of these we have come to accept as a normal part of the business of working with the paper ephemera that are our stock in trade.

Yet, even so, every once in a while we stumble across a mystery that we just can't let go of. One that, no matter how tiny a matter, refuses to be ignored. Such is the mystery we present today.

The card, itself, is quite wonderful, but before we share the face, let us share the reverse, with its romantic message, sent in 1904 to Mademoiselle Noémie:

Reverse, La Fée aux Cheveux d'Or

Dans l'infini mon coeur plane
À pris de toi il se réchauffe
Bon souvenir à Bientôt

You have taken and warmed the infinite plane of my heart. Fond remembrance, with anticipation.

Not an exact, word for word translation, but one which we hope accurately reflects the sentiments expressed.

You can learn more about this card, get a full translation of the song lyrics, and discover the story that inspired the photographer and the song in our posting for this card on Etsy. Here, we examine the mystery.

The face of the card is a depiction of a fairy tale character, whose beauty and long, golden hair were celebrated in the song lyrics printed on the card, La Fée aux Cheveux d'Or.

La Fée aux Cheveux d'Or

And, it is on the face of the card that our mystery can be discovered.

Postcards, while providing a speedy way to sent a short message, much as we use email or text messages today, had the disadvantage of exposing the message to all who handled the card, not only the postal carrier, but also a young woman's parents and other members of the household. What was a suitor to do?

The sender of this card had a solution. He included a secret message for his beloved, written in mirror writing, much as Leonardo De Vinci did when his writing was not intended to be read by strangers. Not only did the sender use mirror writing for this message, but it was written using an ink which smeared and is much more faded than the ink used on the reverse. Or, was that ink at all? Could the message have been written using lemon juice or some similar substance, so that it could be viewed only after someone knowing the secret had warmed the message over a flame to make it visible?

Here's a closeup of the message, as we see it on the card today:

 A bit hard to read, no?

To make this easier, we've used digital magic to hold a mirror up to this writing:

Now, we can almost make out the secret message. The first word, we believe, is "je," I, and the last is "beaucoup," very, or much, but the key word in the middle remains indecipherable.

Do you know French better than we do, which is pretty much not at all? Are you an expert at deciphering handwriting? Can you help solve this mystery?

Please share your answers here, on Facebook, on Google+, or by convoing us on Etsy.

The first poster to contact us with the answer that we feel best deciphers the message will be awarded a 20% discount (not to be used with any other discount) on any item in our shop.